Casablanca: 70th Anniversary Edition

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As big and timely a picture as ever you’ve seen! You can tell by the cast it’s important! gripping! big!

Have we already come to the point of reissuing classic films on blu-ray? Actually, it has happened quite a few times already. But perhaps few do as good a job with these ultimate collector’s sets as does Warner Brothers.

Case in point is the new monstrous release of one of most everyone’s top films of all time. That’s right, I am talking about Howard the Duck. Actually I am of course talking about Casablanca, the classic film with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman among others. We won’t get into the movie here, as there is more than enough out there for even the casual reader to wade through.

Rather, let’s look at the release itself. Is it THAT much better than the previous exemplary 2008 release? The 2008 release was wonderful at the time.

As good as the 2008 release was, this one is that much better. The film is beyond beautiful and spotlights the wonderful work of a full 4K restoration. It is still a 70 year old picture and no amount of restoration can elevate a picture of this vintage to compete with the latest Spiderman for example, but this is one of the rare re-releases which justifies a re-purchase.

The blacks are blacker and the contrast is sharpened, but without any signs of digital noise reduction. There is occasional softness but nothing serious and the sound has been boosted slightly as well. The improvement in sound quality, though noted, is probably marginal at best. The 2008 release sounded just fine, this one is just lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. Not that with a film this old it really makes a difference.

What really sets this release apart are the extra materials, many of which have been ported over from the previous release- including two audio commentaries. (I prefer the Roger Ebert commentary, though some will countless appreciate Rudy Behlmer’s more. I, for one, still cannot reconcile Behlmer’s weak commentary for The Adventures of Robin Hood with reality.)

Best among the new materials are the new documentaries on director Michael Curtiz entitled “The Greatest Director You Never Heard Of,” and another more standard documentary titled “Casablanca: An Unlikely Classic.” Curtiz is a director who, as the title suggests hasn’t been heard of by many, making it a very apt title. Curtiz, over the length of his career, was not only one of the most productive but also most versatile of all directors. Sadly, the piece doesn’t cover his entire career and is some what short with a forty minute running time.

Much of the other material seems almost standard fodder for WB fans, such as the inclusion of not one but three documentaries regarding the history of Warner Brothers, all of which have been released before.

Lastly is the physical presentation of the set, which is understated elegance to say the least. The set arrives in a sturdy white box, and includes all sorts of goodies, including a hardbound book, a reproduction release poster, and a set of four themed coasters.

Sadly, as much as the physical goodies are of a high quality they are pretty unnecessary, though the book is astounding.

From my perspective, if you don’t want the coasters and you have the previous blu-ray release (now out of print), hold off on purchasing this- for the moment. I would hope that a disc only version without all the swag will be released and the price will drop after release.

The film and the content are simply wondrous and it is hard to imagine the film ever being presented in a better light. Unfortunately it competes with an also very strong 2008 blu-ray release. Although the film is visually significantly better than in 2008, the 2008 release was exceptional and some may not see or appreciate the upgrade.

Although the new documentaries (meaning the actual new ones, not the ones just new to a Casablanca release) are compelling, there simply isn’t enough of them.

The final verdict is this- if you don’t have the 2008 release, this is a MUST have and cannot be recommended higher. If you do have the earlier release, hold off for now until prices drop or a swagless edition comes out. If you haven’t heard of Michael Curtiz yet, waiting a little longer won’t hurt much.

Review copy provided by Warners.